Ash Wednesday

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
   according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my sin,
   and cleanse me from my iniquity.

                                                                     Psalm 50 (51): 1-2

.           .         .

Thus begins the psalm set for today’s Mass. It’s a familiar psalm, the one from which we have the chorus, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” We know it as the psalm David wrote after his visit from Nathaniel, whose reprimand inspired the contrition David expresses. The thing is (and I admit this sometimes troubles me, but I am not concerned with it today), the sorrow over his sin is between David and God. David pleads: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. / O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

So I was a little bit dismayed to hear the headteacher speak about Lent, and the Lenten discipline we undertake, with the phrase “make us a better person.” However well-intentioned, I think this is the wrong message for our children, and for us. Jesus did not come that we might be better people; he came that we might have life, “abundantly.” Lent begins with an acknowledgement that we are sinful, and that we cannot make ourselves better. We repent of our sins and ask forgiveness, looking to God to cleanse us, heal us, and renew us, so that we can receive the new life offered to us by Christ’s resurrection. Then will our lips be opened; then will we declare God’s praise.

I liked my son’s interpretation of what the head teacher said. Answering the question, “What is Lent?” asked by the priest this morning, he did say (perish the thought) that the things we gave up or undertook for Lent had the effect of making us better people. But he gave that “better” this gloss: “to make us more like Jesus.” That’s my boy. Amen, son, amen.

Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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